Relief pitchers are unlike any other position in fantasy baseball. Many leagues don’t use holds as a category, severely diminishing the value of most non-closer options. Relievers also tend to be very volatile and more teams are leaning into the “closer-by-committee” strategy. In saves-only formats, the closers with high job security are the most valuable while the rest of the pool feels a bit saturated.
Due to the nature of relief pitchers, there are very few prospects on this list. Over the next few years, many prospects that can’t maintain a job in the starting rotation will move to the bullpen and find success. Until then, those prospects are ranked among the starting pitchers.
The focus of these rankings is on bullpen arms that will provide saves and/or holds in the next few years, with an emphasis on the former. Some pitchers, such as Spencer Strider and Jeffrey Springs, technically have RP eligibility but were not considered on this list. In leagues that count holds, the general value of relievers is lower, though the elite arms are still important. These formats boost the value of those with strong ratios that may not get many saves, such as Andres Munoz and Jhoan Duran.
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- The top two relievers, Emmanuel Clase and Edwin Diaz, are in a tier of their own. Diaz finished top-10 in Cy Young Voting after a historic season. He racked up 17.1 K/9 with a 1.31 ERA across 62 frames. Clase found similar success with a 1.36 ERA and an MLB-leading 42 saves. His strikeout rate was much lower but he gets a very slight edge for the top spot due to being four years younger than Diaz. Clase also had the best Stuff+ by a decent margin among all pitchers with at least 60 innings. Despite the age difference, you can’t go wrong with either of these two closers. There’s a fairly sizable gap between this pair and those in Tier 2 and they should maintain that position for the foreseeable future.
- Josh Hader had a brutal 2022 campaign, registering a 5.22 ERA, including a 7.31 mark with San Diego. Still, he lands in the third spot on this list, partially due to a more respectable 3.45 FIP. The rebound potential is obvious and he’s seemingly still a lock for the Padres’ closer role. Hader registered a 2.26 ERA with a 2.60 FIP through his first five MLB seasons before the 2022 meltdown. Even in a down year, the 28-year-old notched 36 saves with a 14.6 K/9. Hader has elite stuff and will need another bad year to really move down this list.
- One name that could be a few spots higher entering 2024 is Camilo Doval. He has great stuff, including an elite slider, that makes up for his slight command issues. Last season, batters hit just .158 with a .226 slugging percentage against the slider that he threw 43.6% of the time. The 25-year-old uses a three-pitch mix that also features a cutter and sinker that both average over 98mph. The sinker, accounting for 25.9% of his pitches, was a new pitch in 2022 and resulted in a .281 xWOBA. As Doval continues to hone in on his mix, I expect him to become a top-five closer in baseball in the near future.
- As mentioned, Andres Munoz is an elite arm that isn’t locked into a closer role. He’s the only reliever in the top 10 that doesn’t have a firm grip on his team’s closing job heading into the season. The 24-year-old dominated last season with a 2.49 ERA (2.04 FIP) with a 13.3 K/9 through 65 innings. In the second half, his ERA dropped to 1.93 while picking up three of his four total saves. Munoz throws just two pitches: a four-seam fastball and an untouchable slider. Opposing batters recorded a .126 average with a .176 slugging percentage against his slider. Even if Paul Sewald gets more save opportunities again, Munoz is a solid long-term asset.
- The Rays always have a deep bullpen and rarely rely on one closer. Five different pitchers recorded at least five saves in 2022, led by Pete Fairbanks and Jason Adam with eight each. Fairbanks threw just 24 innings after dealing with a lat injury but he was superb in that small sample. He posted a 1.13 ERA (0.86 FIP) with 14.1 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9. The 29-year-old signed an extension this offseason, possibly signaling that he’s in line for more ninth-inning work. Adam registered a 1.56 ERA (2.86 FIP) with 75 punchouts in 63.1 frames. The team will likely use some form of committee in 2023 but these two should lead the way again.
- The Dodgers could feature a large committee in 2023, including Brusdar Graterol, Alex Vesia, and Evan Phillips. If anyone pulls away from the pack they’ll be in one of the best closing situations in the league. Until then, this group holds more value in saves + holds formats but they should all provide good enough numbers to justify rostering in various types of leagues.
- Ben Joyce is the highest prospect on the list. He was drafted as a reliever out of Tennessee in 2022 and immediately joined Double-A Rocket City. The 22-year-old flamethrower has “future closer” written all over him; his fastball routinely clocks in at triple digits but he needs to improve his command.
Ben Joyce's 105.5 MPH Fastball. pic.twitter.com/4a2R8iMw1A
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 1, 2022
- Arizona’s bullpen might the most wide-open in the league. There’s a handful of bullpen arms that could see save opportunities but one under-the-radar name to watch is Scott McGough. He spent the last four years as a closer in the NPB, logging 80 saves with a 9.7 K/9 and 2.94 ERA through 236 games. The 32-year-old has also thrown 4.2 shutout frames this spring. Other names to keep an eye on in Arizona include Kevin Ginkel, Joe Matiply, and prospect Justin Martinez.
- Clarke Schmidt will begin the year in the Yankees’ rotation due to some early injuries. He could head back to the bullpen once the team is healthy, hence his rank on this list. It’s likely that Schmidt spends most of his time as a starter or long reliever this season and won’t provide much value in the saves + holds department. However, if the Yankees commit to using him in the back of the bullpen at some point, he’d be one of their best relief options. Schmidt recorded a 3.12 ERA (3.60 FIP) with 56 strikeouts in 57.2 innings last season. Boston’s Tanner Houck is in a similar situation.
2023 Dynasty Relief Pitcher Rankings
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